Saturday, March 08, 2008
He is quiet, but passionate. You don't see much emotion out of Austin Kearns. Our Starting Right Fielder is arguably one of the finest outfielders in the game. Strong Arm, Good Instincts and the wherewithal to survive. But early in 2007, Our Number 25 struggled at the plate. He was not getting the job done. A Power Hitter will the ability to be a game changer--Austin Kearns was not a factor offensively during the first half of 2007. Although--after the All-Star Break--he finally resembled the quality Major Leaguer--many have expected from his early playing days in Cincinnati.
During our recent visit to Spring Training in Viera, Florida--Austin was kind enough to give The African Queen and I some personal time at the end of practice. A conversation that took an interesting twist concerning his good friend--Nick Johnson. Anyone that follows Our Washington Nationals understands how these two players are joined forever--due to the most unfortunate of accidents. Yet to us, Austin revealed his real feelings.
With that here we go with Our Conversation with Austin Kearns.
Overall, where you pleased with your 2007 Season? (SBF)
“I need to carry over my second half of last year. I kind of got sidetracked in the first half, but I need to keep that consistency going from the last three months (of 2007).”
“Yes, you were pretty solid--all around--over the last stretch of 2007—what changed? (SBF)
“Yeah, I don’t know really what it was (early season batting slump). It just took me a little while to figure some things out last year (at the plate). I really never figured out what it was. I made some adjustments, nothing major, and everything finally started working for me.”
What kind of adjustments are you talking about there? (SBF)
“Just hitting, different stuff. Maybe, I finally got comfortable.”
You are a very solid outfielder, and you get a jump on a hit ball as well as any player in the game—along with a nice arm. Are your outfield skills more natural or learned? (SBF)
“The skills are both, but I work on it. You need to have some instincts out there (in the field). But, getting some work in--during batting practice is important. You don’t necessarily have to run around during all of BP (Batting Practice) shagging balls. But, you have to spend some time working on timing, getting jumps off the bat.”
So, what do you think about the changes to the team this year? A Big Outfield. (SBF)
“Oh, Yeah! I think we definitely made some improvements and have become better. We have some good younger guys with talent—more speed and athleticism. That is going to make playing a whole lot more fun. I think we have added a lot and we (The Nationals) will be a lot better than we were (on the field last season).”
Personally—you have got to be happy to see Nick Johnson around? (SBF)
“Oh, yeah—yes, most definitely. I have said before—that besides his family (Nick’s), I think I am the next happiest guy to see him on the field (Broadly Smiling—almost as if a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders—Sohna and I happy for him).”
“I am definitely looking forward to seeing him back out on the field in a real game.”
We (The African Queen & I) have talked about how despite the incident with Nick being just a terrible accident—you had to have felt badly over it--personally. And--we are not accusing you of anything in asking that. (SBF)
“Yes, it was just a freak thing. We were both guys going after a ball and it was unfortunate, man. It WAS TOUGH!! I have always tried to stay upbeat around him because I know it can be difficult to be on the DL (Disabled List) for an extended period. I have spent plenty of time on the DL as well. Which makes it easy to get frustrated when you are rehabbing. But, I know it has been tough on him, and I know he is really excited to be back out there. And, I am very excited and happy for him!! (Big, almost tearful Smile—you could tell Austin Kearns was touched by the moment)”
Were you constantly keeping in touch with him during his rehab? (SBF)
“We’ve become quite good friends. We text messaged all the time. We keep in touch quite a bit. We even met up this past off season in Las Vegas for a weekend. We really are pretty good friends.”
I noticed when you two were taking batting practice—as you moved around the field—you two were constantly together. The fact that Nick Johnson and Austin Kearns were constantly together--was noticed by us. (SBF)
“He is a good dude—man!! Since I have been here (in Washington), we hit it off the bat really well. Maybe, he is my best friend on the team.”
I was very happy to see you two out on the field together—practicing (The African Queen).
“It was a tough situation (to get through). Especially, when you have a guy like Nick that has had a lot of injuries before. When he got injured, he was near the end of a career year—that made it even tougher. I don’t know. I really don’t like to talk about it too much.”
But it helps to put it all behind you. (The African Queen)
“Yes, yes it does. Talking about it gets the emotions out.”
Actually, we didn’t expect our conversation with you to head off on this tangent for such an extended time. So, getting back to baseball—are you one to set goals for the upcoming season? (SBF)
“No—I am not that type of person. I only want to improve every single season—whatever part of the game we are talking about—hitting, defense—I just want to get better. I always feel like there is room for improvement. Never, can you be satisfied.”
Speaking of the team—since you were first traded here from Cincinnati—how much greater is the talent pool of players? (SBF)
“Far different in a short period of time. Last year, there were so many questions coming into Spring Training as far as the pitching staff and even the position players. No one really knew how the roster was going to fill out. This year, you can obviously see there is a lot more talent—at all positions. Some solid guys have been added for backup roles. The Big Thing is still the starting rotation. A lot of those guys are healthy. And if they can stay healthy—that is going to be the biggest key for us. We have everything else.”
With that our up close and personal conversation with Austin Kearns came to an end. Touching is the only way to describe this chat. He was straight forward and honest in his comments. Sohna and I appreciated the fact that he, to some extent, let his heart out. For some time, I have always noted that Our Number 25 will never be whole again--until Nick Johnson returns fully healthy to play for Our Washington Nationals.
Well Nick is back!! And If Our Team and its Fans are lucky--Our The Starting Lineup for Our 2008 Version of Our Washington Nationals will not only include a healthy Johnson--but a mentally free Austin Kearns. Our Number 25 may be setting himself for a fine campaign.
PS--At the end of Our Conversation With Austin Kearns, I said to Our Number 25: 'It's picture taking time!!' Without hesitation Austin immediately poses with The African Queen. Everyone with Our Washington Nationals seems to understand taking a photo with Sohna is important. We chuckled about it for some time after. His movement was so natural and accommodating. We believe he enjoyed his brief time with us.